I only passed the pre-Take Back the Night march activities, at the gateway to the Oval. A cold rain was falling, and I was slogging through the wet with only one destination in mind: Thompson Library. Many brave souls were organizing for the annual march to condemn violence and sexual assault against women, and they would not be deterred by the horrible weather and the nonexistent visibility.
Like them, I want to “take back the night.” As a middle-aged male, I want the night–and the streets–to be as safe for me as women want them to be for them. I have always been a nocturnal person, and night was a passion I began to indulge full-time as a teenager, from sneaking out after midnight to wander the deserted streets of Marietta, to becoming a connoisseur of B movies because of watching old movies until dawn, and trying to find third-shift jobs when it was time for me to enter the workforce.
I was totally clueless about the negative connotations night carried. Born-again Christians’ favorite pastime is trying to one-better one another with stories of how horrible they were pre-salvation, and calling oneself a “creature of the night” was always a way to enhance your secular rottenness bona fides. In high school, I bought a frayed Grove Press paperback of John Rechy’s novel City of Night, attracted to the title. I lay propped up in bed until dawn reading his fascinating and tragic first-person novel of a lonely young man seeking love and acceptance while working as a male prostitute.
The radio was pleasant company for my on those late nights when I had to remain indoors. Despite my antipathy toward organized religion at the time, especially toward mass media religious expression, I faithfully listened to a program at 4:30 a.m. every Sunday morning, Nightsounds, hosted by the late Bill Pearce. Again, it was the title that drew me to listen, and soon I would lie in bed, lights off, listening to Pearce’s gentle voice and thoughts. He and I weren’t on the same page theologically, and I didn’t pay close attention to the music he presented, but it was always a half hour well spent.
To me, nighttime was almost my own personal playground. During my years in the Unitarian Universalist youth groups, both at Liberal Religious Youth (LRY) and Ohio-Meadville District youth conferences, I was one of the people who stayed up almost until dawn, reading, talking, or writing. (The irony is that through most of high school I was such a Mormon about caffeine, yet I usually outlasted the people who never let their coffee mugs get more than half empty.)
Now that I’m older, I am more aware of the dangers of the nighttime, although I have never been mugged, pickpocketed, or assaulted. I would love to take this laptop with me when I leave the house in the evening, so I can write in a café or fast-food place. I don’t because I doubt I would be safe in my neighborhood carrying a computer after dark. I am not wild about doing it during the daytime, but I do it anyway. Once the sun goes down, I feel apprehensive to hear footsteps behind me. I would be a waste of time for a mugger, since I’m usually close to broke, and my watch is a $20 off-brand digital from Target. (In my younger days, I was less apprehensive about walking around at night, even when I would cash my paycheck and carry two weeks’ worth of wages around in my wallet.)
And I hope taking back the night means putting assumed guilt to rest. A faithful reader of this blog will notice that I write about nocturnal events, past and present, quite a bit. I never realized that being an habitué of a city after dark meant I was inherently a rapist. Nocturnal profiling is as wrong as racial profiling.
I never knew such a thing existed until I was living in Athens, Ohio. I was the assistant manager of a photocopy and typing service in the back of The Oasis, and early one morning a graduate student had dropped off a project that was at least 150 pages long, and had to be in her professor’s hands at 9 a.m. the following morning.
So I spent the entire day wedded to the keyboard of the Apple Macintosh Plus, gulping endless cups of fountain Diet Pepsi and chomping down the occasional cheeseburger or candy bars, getting out of my chair only for trips to the bathroom. It was past 2:45 a.m. when the pages began coming out of the laser printer, and I went over each line to make sure it was typographically accurate.
I was staggering when I left The Oasis, just about 3:15. I lived less than a half mile away, but the distance seemed insurmountable. For a moment, I considered sneaking to the Church of the Good Shepherd, the Episcopal church next door to The Oasis, and sleeping on its porch until someone booted me out.
As I was nearing my house, I suddenly realized there was a young woman in front of me on the sidewalk. How did I know this? I learned of her existence only when she wheeled around and shrieked at me, “Why are you following me?”
Uhh… I live in this direction. I was so exhausted at that point I was barely aware of my surroundings, and was on a primitive GPS to get myself home. The most erotic thing I was envisioning was collapsing into bed and falling straight into dreamland. Even if this woman had taken off all her clothes, jumped into my arms, and said, “Ravage me!”, I would not have been able to respond, emotionally or physically.
Yet since I was male and walking around in the predawn hours, ergo, my only purpose was sexual assault.
No woman asks for rape. To say that she “asked for it” because of wearing a miniskirt and a top that exposes plentiful cleavage is bullshit.
At the same time, no man asked to be pre-identified as a rapist merely because he enjoys walking the streets at night.
The night belongs to everyone.